Anyone who has submitted an insurance claim knows that the investigation can be lengthy. For a condominium association, the investigation can be much more troublesome. Not only must the association investigate potential damage, but the insurance company and its adjusters and consultants will undoubtedly want access as well.
Almost every insurance policy requires a policyholder to cooperate with the insurer in the investigation of the claim and specifically require the policyholder to show the damaged property to the insurer as often as reasonablly requested. While this does not require slavish obedience to every demand, associations should be careful not to be seen as obstructing or prohibiting the investigation.
One common problem arises when an association does not have a master set of keys to access units in case of an emergency. While the best practice would be to amend the condominium documents to require each owner to leave a spare key with the management company, many associations do not want this extra responsibility.
In the event that your association does not keep current keys to all units, most states, including Florida, provide an irrevocable right of entry to the association that will allow entry under some circumstances.
Florida Statute 718.111(5) provides:
RIGHT OF ACCESS TO UNITS.—The association has the irrevocable right of access to each unit during reasonable hours, when necessary for the maintenance, repair, or replacement of any common elements or of any portion of a unit to be maintained by the association pursuant to the declaration or as necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to a unit or units.
This statute, like its counterparts in many states, is very clear. An association can enter any unit if it is necessary to maintain, repair, and/or replace those parts of the unit for which the association is legally responsible. In most cases, that would involve the drywall, fixtures, plumbing, and electrical systems.
While it is often a difficult and controversial situation when an association must enter a unit without the owner’s permission, sometimes it is the only way to prevent further damage and prove damages to an insurer. While the association may take heat from unhappy unit owners, the association must realize its duties to everyone else, including neighbors who could be affected by ongoing damage such as mold.
While hurricane season is behind us for the moment, now is a good time to begin reviewing your association’s policies and procedures regarding access to units. Having a plan in place now will save you time and money when a problem arises later.